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[At our dojo we have a tradition of submitting an essay when we test for sho-dan. My exam was today, and here's what I wrote.]
13 December, 2014
Dear Ueshiba Sensei,
We have never met, Sensei, but I am a student of yours. My direct teacher is Dave Goldberg Sensei in San Diego, in the United States. His teacher is Robert Nadeau Shihan, who I am sure you remember well. Goldberg Sensei also trained in Japan with your devoted student, Morihiro Saito Sensei. Sensei has had many teachers - he has told me about a few of them - and I have learned a bit here and there from other teachers and friends as well. There are many bubbling rivulets and quiet brooks that feed into the river that is my experience of Aikido, but they all originated with you.
I owe you a debt of gratitude for this art you created. I've been practicing Aikido for a while now, and so thought I should introduce myself and share with you how my training is going.
Today I am testing for the rank of sho-dan. Some of my friends who aren't familiar with martial arts see earning one's black belt as having arrived. It is an accomplishment, of course, but it feels to me like a starting point, like being accepted into a university. Commencement. "Beginning rank," truly.
It has been a great adventure getting to this point. So many hills and valleys, forks and detours, breathtaking vantage points and mysterious deep canyons. I have traveled to seminars and camps and other dojos, and made good friends from around the world. So many kindred spirits in this community! My health is much improved, to say nothing of my attitude. I
Oh what a day! Glorious!
There's nothing better
Than a friend
Oh what a day! Glorious!
The smell of rain
Has hitched a ride
Upon the wind
I've got good friends
To the left of me
And good friends
To my right
Got the open sky above me
And the earth beneath my feet
Got a feeling in my heart
All in life is sweet
Oh what a day!
It seems like I've been checking things off to-do lists and taking care of details for days. Finally in the last few hours before exam day, and pretty much on top of things.
A few of us cleaned the dojo earlier, and set up chairs for guests last night. Someone pointed out it was my last time going home as a kyu-ranked student. Acck!
Today I had some notes to write and errands to run. I've got my gi (and new hakama) packed up and ready to go in the morning. My stuff for the dojo holiday party afterward is ready to go.
I just need to get the coffee pot set up so I don't need to fiddle with that in the morning, and have Clementine's morning food ready except for adding hot water. I have a little writing to do, and want to run through things in my head once more. And then I think I'll set every alarm clock I can find and try to get to sleep.
My to-do list for the day before my 1st kyu exam. I am also publishing my first book today: "A Bowl of Love — How to Make a Big Green Dojo Potluck Salad". I'd better get busy checking these things off!
I have 13 training days left before my 1st kyu exam on March 9th.
It's been a very difficult week for me, personally, quite outside of my comfort zone. But I've been learning to deal with conflict in a way that benefits everyone. And isn't that the whole point after all?
I've been training really hard, with a lot of focus, and things are starting to come together. I'm seeing more patterns, groupings, and relationships, rather than dozens of separate techniques. And I'm starting to find some new subtleties and details. It still seems like there's a long way to go, but I'm basically feeling on track.
There's quite a large group of us all training for exams on the same day - from 1st to 6th kyu. We've all been supporting each other and training together, which has been a fantastic experience. We've also had a great deal of help from our very generous yudansha, who have spent hours with us refining techniques, clearing up confusion, and polishing the rough spots. I'm feeling very fortunate indeed to have them!
Tomorrow, Sunday, we have another three-hour open-mat session in the afternoon. I want to focus on smoothing out some techniques that I basically understand, but haven't gotten into muscle memory very well yet. Slow, smooth, relaxed, repetition. Breathing is important, I hear, too.
Right now, though, I'm really tired, and looking forward to a hot bath and a good night's rest.
Big ideas seem to come together for me in the morning, perhaps before the rational, detail-oriented part of my brain comes online and takes charge. Earlier this week, when I was uncharacteristically up before sunrise, a larger theme came to me that will help tie my book together. And now this morning, blundering around the kitchen getting my coffee, I realized that two things I've been struggling with are really the same. I am on the verge of publishing my first book, and in a few weeks I have my first kyu exam. In both cases, I've alternately been unconcerned, and a little panicky.
One day soon I will hit the Publish button, and my first book will go live on the Amazon store. And on March 9th, Sensei will call me up in front of the class, and for about 45 minutes I will bring forth everything I've got. No do overs. No excuses. I will wish I might have had more time for editing and rewriting. I will wish I had trained harder, spend more time, focused more clearly… But it will be what it is, and I will have to leave it at that and move on.
I know I still have some time. Feeling rushed and stressed out will not help me. These are just stepping stones on much longer paths — there will be more books, and more exams in the future. No lives are on the line. In the greater scheme of what's important in the world, these are No Big Deal. In one sense this is a sane, adaptive way of looking at things. But I recognize it as a defensive strategy: "It's not that important… I wasn
Feedback (which I know will be constructive, on AikiWeb!) is welcome. I'm pretty happy with how I did, but of course can see lots of things to work on for next time.
I figure now that I have 4 exam videos, they deserve their own playlist. So here it is, starting at 6th kyu (in case you have nothing better to do). LOL http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0F5D81895C5E5A30
My 6th kyu exam has around 9,500 views so far. Every month or two I get a nice comment from someone who's been encouraged in some way by my exam videos (usually a new student who is freaking out about taking their first test, as I was). One of my favorite comments came in a few hours ago, and just made my day:
"You're amazing, Linda-sama. I started train Aikido last week, but before - I had lot of doubts: if I am too old, people are bad, everything will be bad. I'm waiting about two years for my first train. But i taste it, and became addicted of this art. Thank you, for recording. Good luck! (sorry about my english)"
"Your form was fine." Sensei said when he came to discussing my 4th-kyu test. He was giving us each feedback in the post-exam circle of promotion candidates. "Were you nervous?" he asked.
Huh... Nervous? I had felt really well prepared. I hadn't been afraid I would screw up any particular techniques (but of course I did anyway). I knew I was really focused. Intent on giving it my best. I had sort of half-assed my previous test (5th kyu), and had instantly wished I could've done it over - done it right. But there aren't do-overs on tests. This time I was doing my darnedest to nail it.
"Yeah..." I allowed, as best I can recall saying, "not totally freaked out, but I was probably a little nervous."
I was totally freaked out. The weird thing is that I didn't recognize it. Sure, I made a couple of mistakes on jo suburi - the one thing I thought I really had down, and there was that one technique where my back heel came off the ground and I noticed my leg was shaking... I didn't recognize that I was nervous. It's not OK with me to be nervous. Nervous is fearful, uncertain, and weak. I don't get nervous.
What I did recognize was a feeling, one I'd had after my first and only piano recital as a teenager. I had played "Come Sail Away" by Styx. I played it just fine. But when I was done and sat down I had to ask someone how I'd done. It was like I hadn't even been there when I was playing. At the end of my test I'd had the same feeling. I thought I'd done basicall